It’s nearly impossible to escape. Turn on the television, open a newspaper, or scroll through the newsfeed of whatever app you use, and the subject is the same: death from COVID-19. And it’s grip on our attention only tightens as the numbers continue to rise.
Two polls document the impact. Over a four week period, the percentage of people identifying the outbreak as a “highly dangerous threat” doubled. I’ve felt it intensely myself, working hard to sort fact from fiction, fears from reality. As one of my favorite science writers, Atuwal Gawande wrote in his timely book, Being Mortal, “Whenever serious sickness … strikes … , the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”
As I, and many others have pointed out (1, 2), no matter the strategy pursued, the outbreak is going to lead to a tragic accumulation of bodies over the next several months. That said, for most people the risk of dying from COVID-19 remains small (< or = 1%). What might help lessen the worry?
Here are three resources:
- My colleague, Dublin-based psychologist Gary Cunningham created a colorful and engaging booklet for helping people manage COVID-19-related anxiety. I interview him in the first video below. He’s graciously agreed to make the pamphlet available for free for personal and professional use to anyone who is interested. Click here to get your copy.
- Late last week, I interviewed a physician deeply involved in the care and treatment of people with COVID-19 in my home town, Chicago. It’s the second video below. In it, this front line healthcare professional talks about working in an environment where death and dying are commonplace, addressing the impact on healthcare professionals, and the stark realities patients and families face during these uncertain times. The glimpse he provides into the world of the ICU is both informative and moving. His tips for anyone who faces difficult decisions regarding their health and well being are essential.
- Finally, I recently stumbled on the work of Stephen Jenkinson, a Canadian-based social worker and theologian whose book, Die Wise, won the prestigious Nautilus Prize. Of everything I’ve ever read on the subject, this book deals the most directly with the subject of living with dying. It is not a book of psychological advise set in a a series of steps for coping with death. Neither does it offers ways to make dying easier. Rather, like the interview with the author below, it places death at the center of life. “We’re death phobic in the extreme,” the author observes, “Your dying is your life, and your refusal to know that is not life affirming, it’s life betraying.” I found the book and interview compelling, profound, and disturbing, but most of all helpful for addressing what we as a civilization are facing at the moment.
Until next time,
Scott D. Miller, Ph.D.
Director, International Center for Clinical Excellence